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Hughes shows positive signs in rehab

Hughes shows positive signs in rehab

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Despite making a second straight impressive rehab start for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Phil Hughes has no idea as to when he might get a call to New York.

But Hughes delivered a performance on Tuesday night that indicated he might not be all that far away from another trip to the Bronx.

Hughes, who last pitched in the big leagues on April 29 because of a stress fracture in his right rib cage, tossed 5 1/3 innings as the Yankees outlasted the Pawtucket Red Sox, 8-6, in 11 innings at McCoy Stadium.

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Besides hitting 93-94 mph consistently on the stadium radar gun, Hughes threw 50 of his 84 pitches for strikes. He allowed two runs on three hits, walked one and struck out four.

"I felt fine, just like the last few times out," Hughes, who was on an 85-pitch count, said. "I wanted to mix in more changeups. I threw some in counts that I normally wouldn't throw them in. But we decided to go with it because I wanted to get a few more in.

"Overall, I felt pretty good. I haven't felt the rib [his ninth rib] since I was in Tampa, Fla. It's kind of a long process, but it's good to be back and throwing the ball pretty well. Obviously, things didn't go real well up there at the beginning of the year. I'm sure they want to see me prove myself down here again, so however many starts they feel that is, I'll roll with it.

"Basically, I haven't heard anything."

Acting manager Butch Wynegar stated that barring a change in plans, Hughes is scheduled to make another rehab start on Sunday at Lehigh Valley. But, he added, "It could change overnight and he could be called up for his next start at the big league level."

Wynegar, a catcher in his playing days, was impressed with the way that Hughes worked with Chad Moeller, especially when it came to throwing more changeups than usual.

"I thought Chad Moeller did a real nice job with him, using all his pitches," Wynegar said. "There were a few occasions where he threw his breaking ball behind in the count and he threw it for strikes. He mixed his changeup in well.

"For Phil to be successful at the Major League level, he has to be able to do that. When you get a pitcher that can throw something other than a fastball when he's behind in the count, the hitter can't sit back on the fastball. There's a little doubt in his mind. I thought that's what Phil did well."

The only way Hughes' start varied from his previous start with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plus the two he made for Class A Charleston was the number of changeups he threw.

"The only thing I know of was to make sure he threw enough changeups," Wynegar said. "That's the pitch he needs to be able to command. That was the biggest objective, making sure he reached a quota of changeups mixed in there.

"It's another pitch to keep hitters on their toes. You can't sit back and look fastball against Phil because he had the good breaking ball going. When you change something front to back like that, with the changeup, it puts a third pitch in the hitter's minds and can keep him off-balance."

Hughes allowed two hard-hit balls -- a first-inning liner to right field by Joe Thurston and a ground-rule double by Gil Velazquez in the third -- while cruising through the first 5 1/3 innings.

Velazquez's leadoff double was the lone threat mounted by Pawtucket until Hughes was removed. But after Velazaquez advanced to third on Jeff Natale's groundout to second, Hughes fanned Jeff Bailey on a 94-mph fastball and retired Thurston on a soft liner to first.

Then, with one out in the sixth, Bailey doubled to left-center and Thurston walked, which prompted Wynegar to remove Hughes in favor of Mark Melancon. But Melancon promptly uncorked a wild pitch and Keith Ginter blooped a two-run single to center that tied the game at 2.

"I guess my next outing will be around 90-plus pitches," Hughes said. "From that aspect, I feel ready to go. And physically, I feel fine."

Mike Scandura is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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